By Susan Riemer
For The Beachcomber
With the end of the school year drawing closer, planning is underway for graduation and for how school might resume as safely as possible in the fall.
Last week the Washington State Department of Health released a six-page document making directives about graduation ceremonies, including online and drive-through events. Traditional ceremonies, with students gathered shoulder to shoulder and many guests in the audience cheering them on, will not be allowed until Phase 4 of the state’s Safe Start plan — and it is unclear when that might be.
Staff at Vashon High School have been working with students and families to come up with plans to mark the occasion. Vashon High School Principal Danny Rock said class of 2020 graduates will be celebrated in an enhanced parade, with the main highway closed and special stops added in along the way. That event will be followed by an online ceremony, with all the components of a traditional Vashon High School ceremony. The parade is slated to begin at 4 p.m. and the ceremony at 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 13.
A lot of effort has been put into celebration planning, with some obstacles along the way, Rock said, including the late-breaking directives from the state and some students and families who initially wanted more than what is allowed, although now there is acceptance of the current limitations.
“It has been a challenge to support all of our seniors and give them what they need within the limits of what we can provide,” he said.
But Rock also spoke positively of the plans, noting that while they would not compare with traditional graduations, school staff and members of the wider community will work hard to make the event a “cool experience.”
“Typical to Vashon, we are going to do it better than most,” he said. “I have great confidence and faith in our Vashon community to figure out how to do this COVID graduation that is better than just what is expected or what is allowed. We are going to make sure this is a Vashon graduation.”
Meanwhile, last week, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) convened a stakeholder group of more than 100 participants to guide school districts in their plans to reopen in the fall. The group, Reopening Washington Schools 2020-21, is expected to make its recommendations in June with four goals in mind: promote the health of students and staff, ensure that students have access to learning, equity, and guidelines flexible enough for multiple districts and schools.
Currently, the group is considering a continuum of possibilities that span from reopening in the traditional manner to an improved version of remote learning if there are new stay-at-home orders. In between, there is a range of options, including rotating schedules and a phased reopening.
Vashon Island School District Superintendent Slade McSheehy said while OSPI continues its work, he will also convene a district work group soon to make decisions for Vashon’s public schools and expects to announce those decisions in June as well. He cautioned that there will be many details to be worked out for fall, including potential ferry and bus schedule adjustments for off-island students. But he said it also makes sense to consider any state directives before moving too far ahead.
“Most districts are truly waiting to see what is going to come from the stakeholder group because we do not know how tight or lose these recommendations will be,” he said. “ Will they give us three options and we get to choose? Or will they give us one option? So districts are reluctant to go too far down the planning road knowing that the state is really leading on this.”
Susan Riemer is a communications specialist with the Vashon Island School District and a former editor of The Beachcomber.